Empire of Resentment

Populism’s Toxic Embrace of Nationalism

From a leading scholar on conservatism, the extraordinary chronicle of how the transformation of the American far right made the Trump presidency possible—and what it portends for the future

“The lead up to the First World War saw a particular brand of nationalism that has a stark overlap with the populist nationalisms we see on the rise in Europe today . . . that kind of nationalism never dies.”
—interview with author, The Christian Science Monitor

Since Trump’s victory and the UK’s Brexit vote, much of the commentary on the populist epidemic has focused on the emergence of populism. But, Lawrence Rosenthal argues, what is happening globally is not the emergence but the transformation of right-wing populism.

Rosenthal, the founder of UC Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies, suggests right-wing populism is a protean force whose prime mover is the resentment felt toward perceived cultural elites, and whose abiding feature is its ideological flexibility, which now takes the form of xenophobic nationalism. In 2016, American right-wing populists migrated from the free marketeering Tea Party to Donald Trump’s “hard hat,” anti-immigrant, America-First nationalism. This was the most important single factor in Trump’s electoral victory and it has been at work across the globe. In Italy, for example, the Northern League reinvented itself in 2018 as an all-Italy party, switching its fury from southerners to immigrants, and came to power.

Rosenthal paints a vivid sociological, political, and psychological picture of the transnational quality of this movement, which is now in power in at least a dozen countries, creating a de facto Nationalist International. In America and abroad, the current mobilization of right-wing populism has given life to long marginalized threats like white supremacy. The future of democratic politics in the United States and abroad depends on whether the liberal and left parties have the political capacity to mobilize with a progressive agenda of their own.


“Cogent political analysis. . . . A welcome exposé of the politics of wounded resentment and the manipulators behind it.”
Kirkus Reviews
“In this clear-eyed, non-alarmist account, Rosenthal asks what history tells us about the rise of fascism and how close we’ve come to it. Whatever the outcome of the next presidential election, this book provides a brilliantly clear guideline for what to watch out for—and avoid.”
—Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
“The rise of right-wing populism has surprised many political observers, but not Lawrence Rosenthal. His book is essential for understanding the racism, resentments, and reactionary fantasies of the right-wing populism that fueled the political rise and reign of Donald Trump, and that will endure long after he is gone. Rosenthal's deep knowledge and lucid prose illuminate the dark, dangerous, authoritarian politics in the U.S. and around the world still growing in the third decade of the twenty-first century.”
—Harry Levine, City University of New York
“A timely, substantial, and eloquent contribution to our national dialogue with respect to the rise of an American attempt at authoritarian rule as evidenced in the Republican support of Donald Trump’s corrosive effect on the institutions and norms of American Democracy.”
Midwest Book Review
“Frightening and informative, this lucid exposé makes a strong case that American democracy is under threat.”
Publishers Weekly
“Rosenthal offers a cogent account of one of the most consequential developments in U.S. politics, connecting the threads of populist anti-elitism with nationalist resurgence and the eventual emergence of the ‘alt right.’ Should be required reading for anyone trying to make sense of where we are, how we got here and what the future holds for liberal democracy.”
—Cynthia Miller-Idriss, author of Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right
“This book is a worthy addition to the growing body of literature that seeks to understand Donald Trump and how he came to inhabit the Oval Office.”

News and Reviews

Author Interview

Read a Q&A interview with author Lawrence Rosenthal about Empire of Resentment, the history of populism, and the right’s shift toward nationalism.


Read an excerpt from Empire of Resentment about how identity politics became all about white men in GEN, a Medium publication.

Goodreads Reviews